Originally created 01/26/99

Jones' dream realized in course



Starting in 1934, with the first Masters Tournament, Augusta has held a prominent position on the international sports map.

The Masters, which has been played every year with the exception of the World War II years of 1943-45, is the most popular golf event in the world, annually drawing the highest television ratings of any tournament.

Its popularity is such that the Masters is often called "the toughest ticket in sports."

After interest in the game exploded in the mid-1960s thanks to the charismatic Arnold Palmer, a waiting list for tickets was started in the early 1970s. A few years ago, there were so many names on the list the Augusta National Golf Club, the organization that manages the Masters, announced that it would no longer take names.

In the 1950s, the Augusta National also was often mentioned in world news reports. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a member of the club at the time, made 29 visits to the Augusta National during his two terms as president.

Augusta and the Masters are linked to the point that they almost are interchangeable to golfers. Former champions often say they "won at Augusta" not that they "won the Masters." And as any Augusta resident who travels knows, it seems that everyone knows there is a golf tournament played each spring in Augusta.

The Augusta National Golf Club's course, site of the Masters each year, was not built to play host to a golf tournament. Constructed on what had been a 365acre nursery, it simply was the realization of what Atlantan Bobby Jones called his "dream course."

Jones, the greatest amateur golfer the sport has known and considered second only to Jack Nicklaus as the best player in the game's history, often had played in Augusta at what is now Forest Hills Golf Club and Augusta Country Club.

Since what Jones had in mind was a "winter course," which would close during the summer, his friend Clifford Roberts of New York suggested Augusta as the site over Jones' native Atlanta because of Augusta's milder winters.

"His immediate reaction was to embrace the proposal enthusiastically, but with a stipulation that I agree to look after the financing. This I agreed to do," Roberts wrote in his book The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club.

In 1930, Jones and architect Alister MacKenzie of Scotland designed the Augusta National, finalizing the plans so that construction could start in 1931. It opened for members' play in December 1932. By late 1932, there was talk of holding a U.S. Open at the magnificent course.

Roberts wrote that Jones "was intrigued with the idea, but, after much thought and a number of meetings, it was decided that our club could render a more important service to the game of golf by holding regularly a tournament of our own."

To that end, Roberts and Jones proved to be a team like no other in golf tournament history. Jones, who had retired from competitive golf in 1930 at age 28, felt obligated to play in the first nine Masters tournaments and bring national attention to the event and spectators.

"We realized," Roberts wrote, "that in order to build a tournament of stature that could survive Bob's eventual separation from the event, it needed to be operated in a better fashion and made more enjoyable than any other."

Roberts, the club chairman until his death in 1977, and Jones, the club president until he died in 1971 (he is still the president in perpetuity) accomplished their goal. The Masters was, and still is, considered the best-run golf tournament in the world by fans and golfers alike.

"The Masters is pure golf," said player Greg Norman, noting that commercialism is almost nonexistent at the Masters.

"The Masters," Roberts wrote, "is operated for the single purpose of benefiting the game itself."

The Masters is a nonprofit event, with money the club makes from the Masters going back into the tournament.

David Westin covers golf for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3215 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.